IS HELICOPTER PARENTING DESTROYING YOUR CHILD'S POTENTIAL?
Have you heard of the term “Helicopter Parent”? Parents often feel the need to be involved in almost every aspect of their child’s life. From health decisions and friendships to school projects and discipline. Of course there are many times a parent should be involved, but other times where a parent needs to let their child navigate the world on his or her own.
What is helicopter parenting?
The term "helicopter parent" was first used in Dr. Haim Ginott's 1969 book Parents & Teenagers by teens who said their parents would hover over them like a helicopter; the term became popular enough to become a dictionary entry in 2011. Similar terms include "lawnmower parenting," "cosseting parent," or "bulldoze parenting."
Helicopter parenting refers to "a style of parents who are over focused on their children," says Carolyn Daitch, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders near Detroit and author of Anxiety Disorders: The Go-To Guide. "They typically take too much responsibility for their children's experiences and, specifically, their successes or failures," Dr. Daitch says. Ann Dunnewold, Ph. D., a licensed psychologist and author of Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box, calls it "overparenting." "It means being involved in a child's life in a way that is overcontrolling, overprotecting, and overperfecting, in a way that is in excess of responsible parenting," Dr. Dunnewold explains.
What does Helicopter Parenting Look like?
Overparenting is not only becoming more and more common, but psychologists and other professionals are realizing the consequences this type of behavior is creating. What does overparenting, or helicopter parenting, look like today?
School Assignments: Grades become more and more important as a child climbs through their K-12 years. When a parent takes responsibility away from their child by completing, or over-assisting with, a project or assignment, this is sending mixed messages to the kid. According to Dr. Dunnewold, the child perceives themselves as incapable of completing the project on their own since the parent is doing it for them. It leaves the child to think “do my parents not think I can do it on my own”? They may also have conflicted emotions and feel happy their parent is doing it for them. This can be very confusing for a developing child’s brain.
Social Relationships: During a playdate, a parent may feel the need to constantly meddle with the children’s interactions. Of course if a child is biting or hurting another, that needs to be stopped immediately, but why not allow the children to work on disputes on their own, within reason? Overshadowing and overdirecting your child’s behavior doesn’t enable them to practice and learn good habits on their own.
As the children get older, this may come in the form of a parent ensuring their child is in a specific classroom with a teacher or best friend. Also, helicopter parents are known to select their child’s activities and sporting events for them.
Avoiding Failure: Allowing your child to fail at anything is difficult, and not easy to witness. Parents often struggle with finding this balance and error on the side of helicopter parenting. Afterall, adults have already gone through these failures on our own and are aware of the necessary steps to avoid it. Parents want to protect their children from the consequences of failing a class, the embarrassment of making the wrong play on the soccer field, or the realization that being a brain surgeon is not the right path for them. Parents don’t allow their children to make mistakes and learn from them.
What is Wrong with Helicopter Parenting?
Although the parent’s intentions are pure and good, there can be consequences of this type of love. In fact, Jessica Lahey, a teacher and writer for the Atlantic and the New York Times, writes, “today’s overprotective, failure avoidant parenting style has undermined the competence, independence, and academic potential of an entire generation.”
Children are not necessarily feeling this type of parenting as love, but more highlighting their own incompetence and lack of strength. This slowly turns into the child having low self-esteem and little confidence because they are getting a constant, and strong, message they aren’t capable of trying things on their own. We learn from our mistakes and failures, so when a child doesn’t have the chance to make a mistake, how can they grow?
Decreased confidence and self-esteem. "The main problem with helicopter parenting is that it backfires," Dr. Dunnewold says. "The underlying message [the parent's] overinvolvement sends to kids, however, is 'my parent doesn't trust me to do this on my own,' [and this leads] to a lack of confidence."
Undeveloped coping skills. If the parent is always there to clean up a child's mess--or prevent the problem in the first place--how does the child ever learn to cope with loss, disappointment, or failure? Studies have found that helicopter parenting can make children feel less competent in dealing with the stresses of life on their own.
Increased anxiety. A study from the University of Mary Washington has shown that overparenting is associated with higher levels of child anxiety and depression.
Sense of entitlement. Children who have always had their social, academic, and athletic lives adjusted by their parents to best fit their needs can become accustomed to always having their way and thus they develop a sense of entitlement.
Undeveloped life skills. Parents who always tie shoes, clear plates, pack lunches, launder clothes, and monitor school progress, even after children are mentally and physically capable of doing the task, prevent their children from mastering these skill themselves.
What should parents do instead of "Helicoptering?"
Although it is a form of tough love that truly pulls at a parent’s heart strings, failure should become a somewhat common occurrence for your child. To remain strong, a parent must first learn the many great benefits they are giving their child and learn some helpful tips to support them through this process:
- When a child fails on their own, they are forced to get back up. This pushes anxiety away by showing your child through experiences they can overcome anything life throws at them. Failure WILL happen, whether it be in preschool or college. Kids need to know how to cope with this on their own. In the end, they will gain MORE confidence and self-esteem than ever before.
- According to Psychology Today, intelligence is not something you are necessarily born with. Hard work, perseverance and determination make kids smarter. Letting them fail a project will enable them to do better the next time.
- Positive Parenting Solutions suggests showing your kids all the professional sports players and celebrities who have failed in their lives. For example, Michael Jordan, Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey.
- The Child Mind Institute says empathy towards your child during failure is a must. Allowing your child to fail does not mean you are abandoning them. Put yourself in their shoes and talk out the disappointment with them. Show them they are allowed to be sad and frustrated, all normal emotions for failure. Then slowly turn the situation into a teachable moment and discuss ways they can improve, or change, the situation in the future.
- Let your child deal with social disputes or challenges on their own. Are they fighting with a friend? Talk it out with them, but don’t immediately pick up the phone and call the other parent. Is your child having difficulty with a teacher? Let your child navigate that relationship on their own before you intervene. When your child leaves your care going off to college or the workforce, they need these conflict resolution skills in their toolbox to succeed.